Love in War: A Review of "We Are Going to be Lucky: A World War II Love Story in Letters"

The correspondence between Lenny and Diana Miller captures the trials and triumphs of a couple separated by war, but determined to defeat fascism.

Elizabeth L. Fox, ed. We Are Going to be Lucky: A World War II Love Story in Letters (Albany, NY: NYU Press, 2018)

 

In May 1943, Lenny and Diana Miller, a young married couple living in Brooklyn, New York, began a prolific correspondence when Lenny departed for basic training in the US Army. Lenny and Diana were the children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They were active members of local labor groups, well educated, and shared a deep hatred of fascism. The couple wrote over 2,500 letters between 1943 and 1946, which was not particularly unusual during a war in which letters were often the only way to communicate. What makes their correspondence exceptional is that nearly all of the letters survived. Letters to soldiers were often destroyed by the elements because soldiers had no way of preserving the hundreds of letters they received. Lenny, however, carefully saved nearly every letter Diana wrote to him during the war. Even when Lenny was in combat, he stored Diana’s letters in his gas mask and mailed them back to her after he read them. We Are Going to be Lucky is an edited and annotated collection of excerpts from Lenny and Diana’s letters compiled by Elizabeth L. Fox, the couple’s daughter.

Fox, who earned a BA in history from City College of New York and an MA in vocational rehabilitation training from New York University, served over 20 years in leadership positions on the National Board of Hadassah. By publishing Lenny and Diana’s extensive wartime correspondence, Fox gives readers an intimate view into her parents' thoughts, feelings, and struggles through three tumultuous years. In 1943, Lenny was a married man and case worker with the New York City Welfare Department. He could have waited until the draft called him for service, but he felt compelled to serve his country in uniform. Although Lenny had completed the coursework for a PhD in history and could speak French, German, and Yiddish, he enlisted as a private and wanted to serve as a rifleman. Incredibly, Diana supported and encouraged Lenny’s decision to pursue one of the most dangerous forms of service. Meanwhile, Diana worked at a factory making periscopes for submarines. She wrote to Lenny about her efforts to organize a workers’ union in the plant, and about civilians’ reactions to events like the Red Army’s victories on the Eastern Front and Italy’s surrender.

The letters are a mix of small details about the young couple’s daily life and more serious ruminations on society and the war. Like many wartime couples, Lenny and Diana decided to start a family before Lenny shipped overseas. Many of Diana’s subsequent letters chronicle her efforts to find a new job and manage the birth of their child alone. Although the couple wrote nearly every day, Lenny and Diana frequently did not receive letters from one another for weeks. In one case, Diana did not hear from Lenny for 46 days while he was in transit to the front lines in France. When the couple’s daughter was born, Lenny did not find out for ten days.

In July 1944, Lenny entered combat in France as a replacement with the 30th Division and was assigned to a battalion intelligence section. He interrogated prisoners and scouted with the infantry companies. While censorship and the exigencies of combat prevented Lenny from describing all of his activities, he vividly described the people and landscapes he encountered. Diana’s fortitude also comes through in the letters, particularly after she read that her husband had survived strafing, artillery, and bombing attacks. During the Battle of the Bulge, Lenny received the Silver Star for his heroism in the face of a German attack. Later, when Lenny was severely wounded, the letters revealed the couple’s anguish. Diana did not know the extent of Lenny’s injuries, and despite grievous wounds to his leg, he scribbled off a note to his wife so that a War Department telegram would not be the first time she heard of his hospitalization.

In some ways, this is a love story of its time that captures the difficulties of millions of couples who coped with long separations, slow communications, and the challenges of parenting alone. General readers and historians will find this book both an engaging read and a useful source on a wide range of topics from German prisoners’ attitudes to American workers’ prejudices and politics. One of this book’s most valuable attributes is that it depicts the experience of a young, politically active Jewish couple on both the home front and battlefield. Diana and Lenny’s deep commitment to fighting against injustice helped them endure years of hardship.

Elizabeth Fox carefully selected excerpts from the letters that highlight their conversational aspects across many months. She also gives an appropriate amount of context to inform general readers about the places and people mentioned in the letters, as well as the larger picture of the war. Finally, what sets this volume apart from many other collections of letters is the large index that makes it easy to use for reference on a particular topic. The book’s overall effect gives readers a glimpse into World War II from a rare perspective, that of a couple whose love endured the war and many decades past it.

Contributor

Tyler Bamford

Tyler Bamford is the Leventhal Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy at The National WWII Museum. He obtained his PhD in history from Temple University and his BA in history from Lafayette College.

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